BrightFlag Uses ML to Bring Transparency to the Legal Industry
Just over ten years ago the global economy was shaken and sent into a downward spiral that would take years to recover from. Lenient lending practices by major financial institutions inflated a real estate bubble in the United States that would pop in 2008, forcing many banks into insolvency and companies to cut spending.
While the economic downturn slowed industry growth in most areas, the pullback in spending and need for more fiscal responsibility within companies would give birth to new opportunities, specifically in the legal sector. Enterprises started to demand transparency from a department that historically benefited from a “that’s just the cost of doing business” attitude.
This new area of need is just where Brightflag, a Dublin-based legaltech startup, was birthed and continues to grow today. Founded in 2014 by CEO Ian Nolan and Alex Kelly, who serves as the COO, Brightflag is on a mission to enable large enterprises to better understand the millions they spend on legal services each year, a problem both have dealt with personally.
Prior to jumping into the startup life, Kelly worked as a corporate lawyer at a large firm, counting many corporations as clients, while Nolan sent over 7 years at CORTBase, a software development and consultancy that focused on serving legal practices. As Kelly puts it, “Traditionally, lawyers would charge hourly rates for their time, with no real pricing certainty around how any individual legal matter would cost. This is a huge problem for an organization that is looking to drive predictivity and cost control.”
To solve for this, the team at Brightflag has built a SaaS platform that uses supervised machine learning to read and process narrative text—of which there is no shortage—that law firms submit to their corporate clients on what they’re getting billed for. That information was previously contained within reams of paper, but is now able to be processed and analyzed via Brightflag’s ML algorithms, and then used to gain insight into where those stacks of legal bills are going. In-house legal teams used to wonder, how is this work being resourced? Are there opportunities for more efficient ways for that work to be done? Now they can easily access the answers via Brightflag.
With any supervised machine learning play, having enough data to train a model on is one of the first hurdles to take on. It’s why marketplaces that make datasets more accessible are booming these days, with startups and enterprise alike moving into the space. Per Kelly, Brightflag’s chosen industry and customers are data rich.
“Our sweet spot are large enterprises, typically spending millions or tens of millions on legal services annually. Revenues are often north of $1 billion and employee counts of 1,000 on up. These companies tend to have data sets so large that we can draw many insights by simply comparing across their organization to understand how their law firms are resourcing their work. At Brightflag, we find whether or not there are inefficiencies in how the work has been delivered and apply pre-understood concepts to unearth things that perhaps law firms shouldn’t be charging their corporate clients for. Our system then highlights those and enables the enterprise legal team to have those conversations with their firms.”
At the core of this operation is a complex technical infrastructure, to which Brightflag trusts AWS and its suite of services. The now five-year-old company counts employees across three countries, with customers in even more. The global reach of AWS was a key consideration when making the choice between cloud providers in early days. Kelly also points to the fact that their customers really value security and reliability, things that AWS excels at. “As you can imagine, the enterprises we service have rigorous infosec requirements. Overall, we’ve seen a level of acceptance and people being comfortable when they hear AWS is our hosting partner.”
Looking forward, Brightflag seems to be in a great spot to scale. The company currently boasts over 80 people globally, with offices in New York, Sydney and its hometown of Dublin. Having raised ~$11 million in total funding, Brightflag will look to further invest in growing the team and product, all in a continued effort to bring transparency to a historically opaque industry.